Emily Jane Powers has the gift of taking a concept or feeling that seems entirely overwhelming and making it feel more palatable. Her latest release, Restless, fully harnesses this gift, brushing on topics like monotony, motherhood, and monogamy. While the album shows Powers' maturity, both emotionally and musically, it comforts more than sedates, while still making room for hints at her garage rock past in songs like "Sullen Days."
Though she's been living in Chicago for the past 14 years, Powers was born and raised between Pinckney, Michigan — a textbook definition of a quaint Midwestern town — and Ann Arbor. She spent many of her formative years just outside Pickney, attending and performing at shows in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area, and credits this experience for who she is as a musician.
"Wherever you spend your teenage years and whatever you end up listening to at that time has an enormous impact on who you are," Powers says. "A lot of the music that was happening in the Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Detroit area in 2000 to 2004 was really influential on me."
Powers' 2009 release Undertone is undoubtedly akin to the early 2000s garage rock happening in and outside of Detroit at that time — right around when the White Stripes were still playing shows at the Gold Dollar and grrrl bands like Cat Power and Hole reigned supreme. If Undertone is a sunbathed, reverb-heavy indie rock record that flexes Powers' songwriting and instrumental talents, 2014's Part of Me and this year's Restless are its world weary and wiser older siblings. Powers admits that Restless is the most lyrically honest and straightforward of the three. "It's the first record that I've actually tried to be more forward in my lyrics," Powers says. "I feel like that was a big risk, but it's something that I definitely did on purpose and am seeing the reward of communicating more clearly."
One of the record's most gutting songs, "Talk and Beg," is a clear example of Powers' earnest vulnerability in writing this record. In this song, Powers delivers lyrics like, "Let's just get right to the point where I'm a disappointment," with chillingly gorgeous vocals and gracefully picked guitar. The song, which Powers says is about motherhood, speaks to anyone who is afraid of failing — so, everyone.
Powers explains that being so vulnerable in her music can make performing difficult at times. "I kind of go into a trance when I play," she says. "And then I have moments where I peek out of it and think, 'What am I doing in front of these people? This is horrifying.'" Horrifying as it may be, Powers' honesty is what makes watching or listening to her such a cathartic, even transformative, experience — perhaps that explains why she describes her albums as an "open therapy session."
Emily Jane Powers will perform with Vnesswolfchild and Eliza Godfrey on Saturday, May 5 at Trixie's Bar, 2656 Carpenter St., Hamtramck; Doors at 9 p.m.; Tickets are $6.
Get our top picks for the best events in Detroit every Thursday morning. Sign up for our events newsletter.